There are plenty of boring, legitimate, logistical reasons why tickets for an NFL playoff game in a neutral city probably need to go on sale more than a few days before the actual event.
Fans would need to know that they’ve actually secured a stadium seat before deciding whether to travel. Prices for flights, hotels and the like, are only going to rise in price the nearer we get to gameday.
So when the NFL instructed the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills to start selling tickets for a potential AFC Championship showdown between the two in Atlanta, an outcome that will only come to pass if both win in the divisional round this weekend, it made sense — regardless of the optics.
But for the city of Cincinnati and a Bengals fan base hellbent on shooting for a return to the Super Bowl? Well, they’re never going to see it that way.
And when the ticket sales window was opened — not that he’d ever admit it — don’t be surprised if Bengals head coach Zac Taylor allowed himself a little self-directed smile.
For Taylor knows that an us-against-the-world mentality is one of the oldest and most powerful in sports, and both the fired-up residents of Cincy and the team that represents them are together in that headspace right now.
Taylor has been stacking up the bulletin-board material and leaning firmly into it, ever since rearrangements were made regarding the postseason system, necessitated by the cancelation of the Bills-Bengals regular-season game due to the terrifying scenes that followed the on-field collapse of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin.
Taylor was a compassionate shoulder of support for his Bills counterpart Sean McDermott that night. He also visited the hospital where Hamlin was taken and his wife Sarah led a campaign collecting messages of well-wishes from local schoolchildren. Cincinnati fans left Paycor Stadium that night without a shred of complaint, then donated generously to Hamlin’s foundation.
But they felt like they got the short end of the new setup, which was voted on by each of the 32 teams, and were particularly angered by how they would have faced a coin flip for home-field advantage when facing the Baltimore Ravens in their wild-card matchup, had they lost to the same opponent during Week 18. That was moot — they ended up winning both — but the idea of injustice was hurriedly percolating in Taylor’s mind and spreading across the city.
“It seems like there are positives for a lot of teams and only negatives for us,” Taylor told reporters.
How did the Bengals beat the Ravens, and what’s next?
The Cincinnati Bengals held on to beat the Baltimore Ravens and will face the Buffalo Bills, who narrowly defeated the Miami Dolphins. How do the two teams match up?
The Bengals, now headed to Buffalo on Sunday for the chance to get back to the AFC Championship, have a chip on their collective shoulder and a city unified behind them.
For the locals, however, it might be hard to stay angered. Not with things going this well on the field. Before last season, the team had not won a playoff game since the 1990 campaign. Now it has one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league in Joe Burrow, who did not hold back in telling supporters what kind of future he believes is coming.
“That’s our standard now,” Burrow said, in reference to winning the AFC North title. “We’re going to celebrate every single time we do it. We’re going to smoke our cigars and were going to wear our T-shirts and hats — we expect that every year.”
There is a prove-everyone-wrong snarl on Cincinnati faces, but also a general sense of giddiness that reached its crescendo when Sam Hubbard corralled the now-titled Fumble in the Jungle from Ravens QB Tyler Huntley and returned the ball the length of the field.
The vibes will surely carry all the way into the weekend, against Josh Allen and company at Orchard Park, for ones of the most anticipated games of the season.
FOX Bet leans toward Buffalo by 4.5 points and the Bills are most people’s idea of a favorite, but Taylor and the Bengals won’t necessarily see it that way. Indeed, the catchphrase “They Gotta Play Us,” often spouted by a Bengals defensive coach before spreading to the players, then the home game crowd, and now emblazoned on T-shirts across the Queen City, can be expected to be heard frequently over the next few days.
The Bengals have more of a connection with their home than many teams, a feeling helped by actions such as Taylor and various players delivering game balls to local bars after postseason wins.
There will be some traveling support in Western New York, but the various saloons of Cincy are where many will watch again, while questioning why, all things being equal, there wasn’t a coin flip to determine the host venue of this meeting.
Is it not an unreasonable query, not that it’s going to change anything now. Yet, in any case, Taylor may just find that even all the perks of home field aren’t as big a boost as a chip on the shoulder — and an overflowing bulletin board.
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